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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from stakeholders on Guatemala, Nepal and Romania

Committee on Economic, Social
   and Cultural Rights

17 November 2014

The Committee  on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this morning heard from stakeholders on the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Guatemala, Nepal and Romania, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week.  The Committee will also consider the report of Slovenia this week, but no non-governmental organizations from that country took the floor.
 
On Guatemala, speakers said the principal obstacles in the exercise of fundamental rights derived from the way the Guatemalan State had been structured to ensure the enjoyment of privileges by a small part of the population to the detriment of the majority.  The greatest victims of violations were indigenous people and women and institutional mechanisms for the protection of indigenous people were weak.  Reference was also made to exploitation taking place in rural zones of Guatemala, poverty and acute malnutrition, and the lack of a budget for education. 
 
On Nepal, reference was made  to the lack of food security, work in hazardous areas, non-recognition of the right to an adequate standard of living, malnutrition, bonded labour and gender-based violence, among others.  Overall, implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Nepal was very weak.  The lack of enjoyment of the right to adequate food remained a critical issue in Nepal and women, children and the elderly suffered disproportionately.
 
On Romania, Roma continued to be exposed to forced eviction, threatening their security, pushing them deeper into poverty and reinforcing their exclusion from the rest of society.  Speakers raised a number of concerns about lack of compliance with the Covenant on several sexual reproductive rights issues.  There was a failure of action to prevent maternal mortality, whose rate remained one of the highest in the European Union.  Access to contraceptives continued to be restricted and there was a lack of access to safe and legal abortion.  Women living with HIV/AIDS were often denied access to sexual and reproductive health services and maternal care.
 
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: Coordination of Non-governmental Organizations and Cooperatives of Guatemala, Peasants Organization of Guatemala, Syndicate for Domestic Workers and Independent Workers of Guatemala, Civil Society Collective of Nepal on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, International Commission of Jurists, FIAN Nepal, Amnesty International, and Euro-regional Centre for Public Initiatives, also on behalf of the Society for Education on Contraception and Sexuality.
 
The Committee will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to begin consideration of the third periodic report of Guatemala (E/C.12/GTM/3).
 
Stakeholders on Guatemala
 
Coordination of Non-governmental Organizations and Cooperatives of Guatemala said that this year Guatemala’s civil society had submitted an alternative report involving input from more than 60 different members of civil society.  The principal obstacles in the exercise of fundamental rights derived from the way the Guatemalan State had been structured to ensure the enjoyment of privileges by a small part of the population to the detriment of the majority.  The greatest victims of violations were indigenous people and women.  Institutional mechanisms for the protection of indigenous people were weak.  Families with low incomes were obliged to pay for education.  Legal and institutional progress to the benefit of women over the last decade had been gradually dismantled under the current administration.  Domestic work, primarily undertaken by women, was governed on a very discriminate basis.  The draft bills for domestic workers and organizations had failed to take root.
 
A representative of the Peasants Organization of Guatemala bore testament to the exploitation taking place in rural zones of Guatemala, caused by the sugar agro-farm industry as well as palm oil producers, among others.  The degree of labour exploitation had meant that in certain areas, where the minimum wage was paid, 10 to 20 hours of work were expected per day.  Women and children were forced to lend a hand to ensure that all of the work was carried out.  The State was not earmarking a sufficient budget to ensure that education was provided.  Malnutrition existed in communities and there was less and less to eat. 
 
Syndicate for Domestic Workers and Independent Workers of Guatemala asked the Committee to take into account the need for Guatemala to establish a long term strategy to increase the tax burden to 20 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, combat tax evasion, as well as ensure elimination of all special treatment and exemption.  Public institutions should be developed and a viable strategy to guarantee quality expenditure particularly focused on socially vulnerable groups should be developed.  On the basis of international law, guarantees should ensure consultative rights for indigenous persons.  On guarantees of equality and advancement of the rights of women, there should be institutional provisions for women.  There should be more lines of financing to ensure proper care for female survivors of violence through integrated support centres.  The State should implement policies and programmes to combat poverty, notably through the eradication of chronic and acute malnutrition and addressing the root causes of the problem.
 
Questions by Experts
 
An Expert asked how organized crime was affecting the presence of corruption and weakening the rule of law and human rights in Guatemala.  On the right to health, was it correct that the current healthcare crisis was essentially down to the fact of the absence of trained health professionals and health provision centres?   To what extent had consensus been achieved between indigenous communities in terms of prior informed consent, asked another Expert?  It was clear that the Government had yet to effectively address this issue. 
 
What would be the added value in terms of the call for recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution?  What exactly was being done in terms of the campaigns from non-governmental organizations representing indigenous communities?  What campaigning or activities were being carried out to achieve this aim?  What was the most common regime of land ownership?  How many indigenous persons were there in Guatemala, enquired an Expert?
 
Responses by Stakeholders on Guatemala
 
On organized crime, corruption and the rule of law, speakers said the State was weak and suffered from rife corruption and organized crime at all levels of the State and institutions.  The rule of law was weak indeed.  On the healthcare crisis, this crisis was endemic.  The healthcare systemic discriminated and lacked budget. 
 
Indigenous persons were reduced to mere ethnic groups and their territories were not recognized.  There were three major peoples in Guatemala. 

Indigenous peoples did not agree with the way the reforms of the Constitution were being undertaken, which were tantamount to wiping out the views of indigenous peoples in decision-making.  There had been no reform in mechanisms of the Government such as on education.  There was data on indigenous people but this was not yet disaggregated and this was something that had to be addressed.  The Constitutional Court had ruled that the International Labour Organization Convention 169 should be binding, but complaints lodged had not been addressed because there was an absence of political will and the justice system was not taking up these complaints.
 
On whether there was consensus among indigenous communities, it was not true to say that there was none.  It was true to say that there were a diversity of organizations operating but the overall desire was to ensure recognition of indigenous groups. 

Regarding the Zero-Hunger plan, unfortunately it was not fit for purpose.  It was likely that intentions behind it were positive but when it came to implementation, the plan was not reaching the affected communities.  A very large number of children were experiencing malnutrition but the State was trying to portray the Zero-Hunger plan as though it were making a difference.
 
Stakeholders on Nepal
 
Civil Society Collective of Nepal on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights referred to problems relating to the lack of food security, work in hazardous areas, non-recognition of the right to an adequate standard of living, and malnutrition.  It was recommended that special land reform policies be developed to secure rights on land.  A national policy and legislative framework for the eradication of hunger and the realization of the right to food was recommended, as was the creation of effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms on food rights.  Specific provisions in the existing labour laws should be made, to improve protection in the informal sector and to ensure social security. 
 
Another representative of Civil Society Collective of Nepal on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said the Government report had not been prepared with gender perspective and failed to highlight the gaps that existed between the promises and assurances made by the State and actual delivery. 

Women’s contributions to the national economy were routinely overlooked, as was the fact that a large number of women were forced to make a living in the informal economy.  Social recognition of women working in this sector remained absent as well.  Prevailing bonded labour systems in the country deserved special attention.  Gender-based violence, gender stereotyping, child marriage and harmful practices justified by cultural or traditional practices and a lack of Government action to address this had yielded the high prevalence of uterine prolapse.  The stigma associated with abortion led women to seek the service secretly, causing unsafe abortion procedures that threatened their lives.  Women did not have an autonomous identity and men inherited and controlled most property.  Overall, implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Nepal was very weak.
 
International Commission of Jurists expressed concern about Nepal’s failure to comply with its obligations under the Covenant, including to ensure independence and effective functioning of the National Human Rights Commission, failure to provide effective remedy, and lack of adequate rehabilitation support to the victims of forced displacement during the armed conflict.  Nepal was called upon to amend the National Human Rights Commission Act in line with the 6 March 2013 decision of the Supreme Court and international human rights standards safeguarding its independence, and enlarge its mandate so as to ensure that it could function in a manner that was consistent with the Government’s obligations to ensure the right to an effective remedy.
 
FIAN Nepal said that the lack of enjoyment of the right to adequate food remained a critical issue in Nepal and women, children and the elderly suffered disproportionately.  Forests, forest resources, and other natural resources like water played a vital role in rural people’s day to day livelihood. 

Restrictions imposed by the creation of National Parks may severely limit access to forests and resources and cause a detrimental effect on livelihoods.

The State of Nepal should adopt all measures to incorporate the right to adequate food, including food sovereignty and nutrition with a gender perspective, and the right to water, in the new Constitution and ensure direct implementation.  Rural and low resource/income base women belonging to marginalized and traditionally disadvantaged groups should be supported in access to and utilization of natural resources required for their livelihood. 
 
Questions by Experts
 
What was the general feeling about the new Constitution, enquired an Expert?  Would there be a strengthened position for economic, social and cultural rights, or an erosion?  What would be the essential elements in a land reform that would be in line with concerns?  Had there been a  process of consultation with civil society during Nepal’s elaboration of its report?
 
Was the conflict between the Government and Maoists completely over, asked an Expert?  Nepal received a lot of Official Development Assistance, but still people suffered from lack of food security, among other insecurities.  Was this because of corruption or abuse of power? 
 
Responses by Stakeholders on Nepal
 
Regarding the Constitution, speakers said people did not feel that it would be come in place on 22 January.  Concerning land reform,  marginalized persons were not consulted in the formulation of public policy.  On Official Development Assistance, a few people controlled resources in Nepal so that they went to the middle class and not to the most marginalized. 

The limitation of independence of the National Human Rights Commission included that the Act on the National Human Rights Commission did not provide the power for it to recruit its own staff.  It was also required to consult with the Ministry of Finance.  The Act had to be amended in order for the National Human Rights Commission to be in line with the Paris Principles.
 
The right to life was a challenge for poor people in rural and slum areas, particularly for Dalits.  There was no explicit document to address these persons economic empowerment, their education, or health.  There was no opportunity to establish rural enterprises. 
 
Stakeholders on Romania
 
Amnesty International said Roma in Romania continued to be exposed to forced eviction, threatening their security, pushing them deeper into poverty and reinforcing their exclusion from the rest of society.  Amnesty International noted that Romanian legislation did not conform with international standards with regard to the right to adequate housing.  Despite Romania’s international obligations to protect the right to adequate housing for all, loopholes in domestic law meant that hundreds of Roma individuals and families and others living in informal settlements remained vulnerable to a continuing, widespread and systematic pattern of forced evictions carried out by local authorities.  The Romanian legal framework also did not expressly prohibit racial segregation as a form of discrimination, which in practice led to housing projects being implemented by local authorities which effectively segregated Roma in areas far away from the necessary services and infrastructure.
 
Euro-regional Centre for Public Initiatives, also on behalf of the Society for Education on Contraception and Sexuality raised a number of concerns about the lack of compliance with the Covenant on several sexual reproductive rights issues.  There was a failure of action to prevent maternal mortality, whose rate remained one of the highest in the European Union.  Sexual education in schools was not mandatory.  Access to contraceptives continued to be restricted for many women and were not covered by the health insurance scheme.  Furthermore, there was a lack of access to safe and legal abortion. 

One of the major barriers in access to legal abortion was the widespread conscience-based refusal on the part of health professionals and sometimes entire hospitals to provide abortion care.  Women living with HIV/AIDS were often denied access to sexual and reproductive health services and maternal care.
 
Questions by Experts
 
On the perception of the general public regarding segregation of Roma, had there been any movement or progress, asked an Expert? Another Expert asked whether maternal mortality was particularly high among Roma?  What were the main causes for maternal death?
 
An Expert had hoped to hear commentary on other issues that fell under the Covenant.  Surely Romania had many other over-riding issues related to the Covenant.
 
Response by Stakeholders
 
There were no official figures on how many cases of maternal death were Roma women.  However, on access to health services, there was data showing that Roma women were more vulnerable, particularly in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.  The reporting and analysis of maternal deaths was not carried out in a consistent and effective manner, which further complicated things.  A report issued by several non-governmental organizations this year with regards to women facing mental disabilities said that they were kept in official State institutions and abuse was systematic in those facilities. 
 
AZZOUZ KERDOUN, Vice-Chairperson, thanked the non-governmental organizations from the three countries for the information they had shared.
 
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For use of the information media; not an official record